peter tinti

independent journalist

Category: Misc

Trump’s Immigration Policy Is Designed to Stoke Crisis


Without a perceived crisis at the border, there’s no pretext for ICE raids, family separation, and concentration camps

Click here to continue reading. 


A Coup, A Political Prisoner, and US Complicity in Honduras


Ten years ago today, Honduran security forces kidnapped Manuel “Mel” Zelaya, the democratically elected president of Honduras, and forced him onto a plane to Costa Rica.

Compared to today, relatively few Americans were paying attention to Central America at the time (the “border crisis” that dominates our current news cycles would not be manufactured until years later), and in the months that followed, the Obama administration quietly played a pivotal role in helping the coup-plotters consolidate power.

Since then, the Honduran state has transformed into a narco-kleptocracy, where political and business elites work in tandem with organized criminal groups to oversee a system of self-enrichment predicated on corruption, violence, and impunity.

Most Americans, even those who would prefer that the United States turn migrants and asylum seekers away at the border, intuitively understand why people from Central America flee poverty and violence. There is even bipartisan agreement that the root causes that drive migration ought to be addressed through aid and assistance to Central America.

But within US political discourse, there is a deeper conversation that needs to take place, one in which  Americans grapple with the ways in which US government policies, spanning Democratic and Republican administrations, have helped sustain corrupt governments to the detriment of ordinary citizens who want to hold their own governments accountable.

That’s why on this day, as thousands of Hondurans take to the streets to mark the 10th anniversary of the coup and call for President Juan Orlando Hernández to resign, it is worth considering people like Edwin Espinal, a man who once lived in America, and now sits in a maximum-security prison for protesting fraudulent elections in Honduras. Edwin’s life, like so many Hondurans’, has been shaped directly and indirectly by US foreign policy.

Click here to continue reading. 

Inside the Corruption and Repression Forcing Hondurans to Flee to the US


Much of the narrative about why so many Hondurans risk everything to migrate focuses on astronomical homicide rates and gang violence perpetrated by groups like Mara Salvatrucha, known as MS-13, and a similar gang called Barrio 18. While those arriving in the US are indeed often fleeing gang activity, and young people deported back to Honduras do risk forced recruitment or becoming victims, gang violence is only one part of the broader system that drives people to leave their homes.

Interviews in Honduras with close to 40 human rights and environmental activists, lawyers, opposition leaders, citizens in hiding, and friends and family of those who have disappeared or been assassinated tell a much more complicated, disquieting story of why people leave. In the last nine years, Honduras has morphed into something that defies neat categorization: a narco-kleptocracy of sorts, operating under the guise of privatization and deregulation, where politicians, business elites, and organized crime oversee a system of governance predicated on corruption, violence, and impunity in order to enrich themselves and terrorize their opponents.

And at almost every turn, this system has been enabled and at times encouraged by the US government.

Click here to continue reading. 

A Dangerous Immigration Crackdown in West Africa

The Atlantic

Europe wants to slow migration from Niger, but could wind up destabilizing an entire region in the process.

AGADEZ, Niger—For centuries, the city of Agadez served as a gateway between sub-Saharan and North Africa. While the camel caravans have been replaced by trucks and Toyota 4x4s, the city’s local communities still rely on the transport of merchandise and contraband to get by. Agadez is also the largest city in Niger’s restive north, the birthplace of ethnic-Tuareg rebellions against the Nigerien state, and a place where jihadist gunmen use the lawless, open desert to move between hotspots in this part of Africa.

Beginning in late 2013, thousands of people from throughout West Africa began arriving in Agadez every week, seeking an escape from poverty and a lack of opportunity back home. From there, it was onto Libya, where many hoped to find work or continue onward to Europe. At the height of the migrant-smuggling boom from 2014 to 2016, dozens of pick-up trucks, packed with anywhere from 22 to 30 people, would set off from the city into the desert every week. Nigerien authorities had little reason to intervene: Migrants headed out of Agadez paid an “exit tax” to government officials that went directly into the municipal treasury. (Many of the migrant convoys were even accompanied by a military escort.)

What did all this add up to? In 2016, the United Nations Migration Agency detected over 333,000 migrants, including Nigeriens themselves, passing through northern Niger and onto Libya and Algeria. With each migrant paying smugglers between $100 and $500 and purchasing food and lodging on their journey through the Sahara, even the most conservative estimates suggested a smuggling economy in the tens of millions of dollars.

Click here to continue reading. 

Niger’s Gold Rush Has Turned Bandits into Barons


Niger’s Gold Rush Has Turned Bandits into Barons. But, granted rare access to northern Niger’s gold fields, we saw how the vast majority of workers aren’t benefitting nearly as much as them.

Gold-mining sites in northern Niger tend to have an origin story, exaggerated with each retelling. In the case of Emzigar, located in the shadow of a mountain by the same name, it was an ethnic Tuareg nomad named Cherif who, as he tended to his camels and goats, found an interesting-looking rock.

Cherif thought it might be one of the stones that Tuareg artisans use to make jewellery. He brought it to a friend, who recognised it as gold. Cherif, legend has it, had stumbled upon 40 grams of what locals have come to call “a gift from God”,” valued on the local market at roughly $1,400 (£1,036), more than three times Niger’s per capita annual income.

Within days, hundreds of people had come to Emzigar. Within weeks, the previously uninhabited plot was a tent city of several thousand, replete with shops, restaurants and a private health clinic. Emzigar is only one – and by no means the largest – of hundreds of encampments that have proliferated throughout Niger’s mountainous, desert north.

Click here to continue reading. 

Keeping Refugees in Africa

De Correspondent / Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting

“I just want to know if I had a boy or girl,” said Abdullah Bashir Umar, a slight man in his early 30s, with a calm demeanor and expressive eyes. Umar says he came to Libya legally from his native Niger almost a decade ago, back when the government of Muammar Qaddafi tacitly encouraged labor migration from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya. Despite the fact that he never had any intention of boarding a boat to Europe, Umar had been detained for weeks in a filthy cell with a dozen other migrants from West Africa. They spent their days caged in a dimly lit box with a rotting ceiling overhead, playing checkers on a set made from scraps of cardboard. They passed the night willing themselves to sleep on mattresses infested with bed bugs. As of that day, Umar had not been able to contact his wife, 8 months pregnant at the time of his arrest.

Umar, it turned out, is collateral damage, caught in the dragnet of the counter-migration machine funded by Europe and carried out by militias loyal to Libya’s UN-backed government in Tripoli. The fact that Umar’s cellmates are locked up indefinitely in Libya and not on a boat to Europe is a success story in the eyes of EU policymakers.

As bad as it is being locked away indefinitely, Umar can at least take solace in having not been sold into slavery. While reports by human rights organizations and the United Nations had previously highlighted the existence of “open air” slave auctions in which Libyan businessmen purchase African migrants to work on farms and construction projects, it was not until CNN obtained footage of such auctions, in which young men were sold into slavery for only a few hundred dollars, that the plight of migrants in Libya garnered sustained international attention. In the days following the CNN report, both the United Nations Security Council and the African Union held sessions to address the issue.

Click here to continue reading. 

Nearly There, but Never Further Away

Foreign Policy

Europe has outsourced the dirty work of border control to Libyan militias. In doing so, it has turned African migrants into commodities to be captured, sold, and traded like slaves.

TRIPOLI, Libya — The guard forced the migrants to kneel and began barking orders in Arabic, a language that few of the once-hopeful souls who had traveled to Libya from sub-Saharan Africa spoke. A gaunt, elderly man in ripped jeans and a tattered T-shirt failed to comply. The guard, wearing a crisp new uniform emblazoned with the insignia of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police division, raised his wooden club and brought it down hard on the man’s back, driving him face down into the ground with the first blow.

It was early May, three weeks after the staff at the Triq al-Sikka migrant detention center in the Libyan capital of Tripoli had received human rights training from the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The guard struck the elderly man again on the back and clubbed the back of his legs. Then he moved methodically down the line of kneeling migrants, beating each man as if he were responsible for his fellow prisoner’s infraction. Cries of pain echoed through the barren, warehouse-like facility, where more than 100 half-starved migrants were locked away in crowded cells. Some had been there for months, enduring regular beatings and surviving on a few handfuls of macaroni and a single packet of juice each day. Others had recently been rounded up off the streets in raids targeting black African migrants.

Soon after the beatings began, other guards at the facility noticed my presence and quickly ushered me into a waiting area outside the well-appointed office of Col. Mohamed Beshr, the urbane head of Libya’s anti-illegal immigration police. Beshr is a key player in recent joint EU-Libyan efforts to halt migration to Europe, including intercepting migrants at sea and detaining them on land. He has welcomed high-level European diplomats and U.N. representatives to the Triq al-Sikka facility, and his office is filled with certificates from workshops run by IOM, the European Union, and Britain’s development agency.

Yet Beshr seemed frustrated by my questions about the abuses openly taking place at the detention center he oversaw. To hear him tell it, his European partners cared about only one thing, even if they wouldn’t say it: preventing migrants from showing up on Italy’s shores. “Are they looking for a real solution to this humanitarian crisis?” Beshr asked, smirking and raising his eyebrows. “Or do they just want us to be the place where migrants are stopped?”

Eighteen months after the EU unveiled its controversial plan to curb illegal migration through Libya — now the primary point of departure for sub-Saharan Africans crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe — migrants have become a commodity to be captured, sold, traded, and leveraged. Regardless of their immigration status, they are hunted down by militias loyal to Libya’s U.N.-backed government, caged in overcrowded prisons, and sold on open markets that human rights advocates have likened to slave auctions. They have been tortured, raped, and killed — abuses that are sometimes broadcast online by the abusers themselves as they attempt to extract ransoms from migrants’ families.

The detention-industrial complex that has taken hold in war-torn Libya is not purely the result of a breakdown in order or the work of militias run amok in a state of anarchy. Visits to five different detention centers and interviews with dozens of Libyan militia leaders, government officials, migrants, and local NGO officials indicate that it is the consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars in pledged and anticipated support from European nations as they try to stem the flow of unwanted migrants toward their shores.

Click here to continue reading. 

The Savior’s Dilemma

Foreign Policy

Are naval search-and-rescue operations saving migrants’ lives — or just encouraging them to take greater risks?

TRIPOLI, Libya — At 7:42 a.m. on May 10, Sea-Watch, a German aid organization that conducts search-and-rescue operations in the Mediterranean just outside Libya’s territorial waters, got word of a migrant boat in distress. The crew aboard the 100-foot rescue vessel sprang into action, dispatching speedboats to bring life jackets to the more than 350 migrants who were packed into a rickety wooden boat. But just as aid workers were preparing to begin the rescue operation, a battleship commanded by the Libyan navy cut their vessel off, narrowly avoiding a high-speed collision.

Upon reaching the migrant boat, the commander of the Libyan battleship, Abujella Abdul-Bari, cocked his pistol and pointed it at the migrants in a scene that was captured by a German film crew on board. Rescuers from Sea-Watch disengaged immediately, afraid that the confusion could lead to migrant deaths, as had happened in a similar incident between Sea-Watch and the Libyan coast guard in October 2016. Had things played out only slightly differently that morning, the roughly 400 migrants on board the distressed boat would have been on their way to Europe; instead, they were headed back to the country they had risked everything to flee.

Click here to continue reading. 

Interview w/ The Reading Lists

Phil Treagus over at The Reading Lists asked me about the types of books I read, my reading habits, the books I recommend and the books that have influenced me the most. There are so, so many more to list, but here are ones that got mentioned in this interview. Check out the full interview, by clicking here, in order to see why I recommended them:

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Village of Waiting by George Packer

The Breaks of the Game by David Halberstam

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

King Leopold’s Ghosts by Adam Hochschild

Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America by Ioan Grillo

A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Oscar Martinez

The Heart that Bleeds by Alma Guillermoprieto

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Evicted by Matthew Desmond

Smuggler/Savior on Global Dispatches, WNYC

I’ve been a bit negligent on blog updates, but just wanted to alert folks to two recent interviews I did to coincide with the US release of Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler Savior.

The most recent was for WNYC’s The Takeaway. It was an honor to sit down in studio with the one and only John Hockenberry. We chatted for about a half-hour, and you can listen to the segment that aired on Thursday by clicking on this link.

For a longer interview, check out the one I did with Mark Leon Goldberg over at Global Dispatches. Mark has everyone from world leaders to leading intellectuals as guests on his show, and I’m so grateful that he took the time to chat with me about the book. Follow this link to give it a listen.

Smuggler/Savior Drops in the US

Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior is now out in the US. Pick-up a copy at all good bookstores, or order one online. The US edition is also available via Kindle, for those who prefer e-readers.

Many thanks to those who purchase the book. I hope you enjoy it. For those who have already finished it, or read the UK version, I would be grateful if you could hop over to and leave a review. I don’t pretend to know how Amazon’s algorithms work, but people who do tell me that reviews, especially verified ones, can go a long way. Cheers!

More Great Reviews of Smuggler/Saviour

Delighted to see three more great reviews over the past few weeks for Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour. 

First, from the Financial Times:

“Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour argues that the world needs to understand how networks of traffickers function if it is to get to grips with this migration crisis. Co-authors Tinti and Reitano … use a mixture of reportage, first-hand accounts from migrants and extensive research to uncover a series of complex transnational industries that exist to help migrants bypass barriers — whether geographic, man-made or political — for a profit.”

The next two from Foreign Policy and International Journalists’ Network, both of which included Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour on “best of” lists for 2016.

From Foreign Policy‘s “What Foreign Policy Staff Read in 2016“:

Migration issues in Europe often break through the news cycle at the most dramatic and tragic points: Refugees charging through barbed wire as border police try to keep them out, or a drowned child washed up on the shores of the Mediterranean. But the journey in search of safe haven and economic opportunity begins long before boarding a boat to reach Europe’s shores. Tinti and Reitano’s book is a must-read for anyone trying to understand the mechanics of the migration crisis in a wider perspective. By focusing in on the conflicted role of the smuggler (who often doubles as a savior for those he is transporting), Tinti and Reitano shed light on one of the most under-examined facets of the ongoing crisis: A multibillion dollar industry of criminal networks that function as a last resort for people in dire circumstances when few legal migration pathways exist. The book isn’t just rigorously researched and packed with fascinating details, but clearly benefits from a reporter’s eye, weaved throughout with gripping first-hand accounts. While Europe’s leaders often respond to the “refugee crisis” with calls to tamp down on the flow of “illegal migrants” and the “traffickers” who abet them, Tinti and Reitano reach beyond those stale labels to help readers understand the nuanced incentives driving the migrant industry.

And from International Journalists’ Network list of the “Best Investigative Journalism of 2016“:

As millions of people from the Middle East and Africa struggle to seek refuge from conflict, oppression, natural disasters, poverty and hunger, their movements are enabled and encouraged by an organized criminal network of people smuggling, kidnapping and extorting money from refugees crossing into Europe. “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Savior” tells the story of this complex underground economy.

Peter Tint and Tuesday Reitano, Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime investigators who drew worldwide media attention to one of the most under-examined aspects of the global refugee crisis, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour and the BBC that the Mafia earns billions of dollars from this insidious new trade over the death of thousands of migrants.

The book is currently available in the UK. Pick it up at your local bookstore or order it from or directly from the Hurst website. The US/Canada release is slated for April 1st and is already available for pre-order on

In Niger, anti-smuggling efforts risk trading one crisis for another

African Arguments 

With unprecedented flows of irregular migrants from Africa to Europe, EU policymakers are eager to work with governments in source and transit countries to stem migrant arrivals from the continent. Having seen its controversial €6 billion ($6.4 billion) agreement with Turkey prove effective in dramatically reducing migrant arrivals via Turkey (for now), the EU is seeking to buy similar cooperation from African governments.

In October 2015, the EU launched the multi-billion Emergency Trust Fund for Africa to “tackle the root causes” of irregular migration, with a particular emphasis on the Sahel and Lake Chad Region, North Africa, and the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the EU has negotiated bilateral compacts with countries such as Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia as part of its Migration Partnership Framework, which lists “breaking the business model of smugglers” and enhanced “cooperation on returns and readmission of irregular migrants” among its goals.

Yet within this web of frameworks and agreements, Libya, the principle point of departure for maritime crossings from Africa via the Central Mediterranean, remains a policy black hole. Insecurity and a lack of a central government preclude meaningful partnerships, so instead European policymakers have turned their attention to Libya’s southern neighbour, Niger, which has seen hundreds of thousands of irregular migrants from throughout West Africa pass through its territory on their way to Libya since 2012.

Click here to continue reading. 

Smuggler/Saviour on CNN and BBC

As part of a short trip to the UK in late October to promote Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour, Tuesday Reitano and I appeared on CNN’s Amanpour and BBC.

You can watch the CNN segment here, and the BBC one here.

Economist / African Arguments Review “Smuggler/Saviour’

The book I wrote with Tuesday Reitano received very nice reviews this week, one from African Arguments, a website that is a must read for policy-types who follow politics in Africa, and one from the Economist, a newspaper that needs no introduction.

From James Wan over at African Arguments:

This distinction is rarely clearer than in the new book Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour, which delves deep into this latter world and brings alive the complex reality of human smuggling and the many individuals involved in it.

Born of extensive on-the-ground research − spanning from West Africa across to North Africa, Turkey and Eastern Europe − this eminently readable and fascinating work by Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano explores how the multi-billion-dollar migrant smuggling industry operates and how it has shifted over the past few years.


Through observation, interviews with both migrants and smugglers, and occasionally by treading migratory paths themselves, Tinti and Reitano paint a rich picture of human smuggling and its protagonists across Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

But Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour does much more than just leave the reader with a colourful impression. It also unpacks close details of how the industry actually operates, how sophisticated networks have emerged to meet rising demand, and how certain rules and practices govern the business.


Tinti and Reitano approach the subject matter with the sensitivity of a confidant, the eye of a storyteller, and the analytical understanding of a researcher. However, by the end, they also convey the frustrations of an activist.

The book is certainly not a polemic, but one theme that runs through it is of how successive European responses have been ineffective at best and deeply destructive at worst. And in the concluding chapter, the authors cannot help but take aim at these ill-conceived policies, writing of how “Europe and its allies have doubled-down on short-sighted policies that are more costly and less effective in the long term”.

And from the Economist:

The most important causes of this migration are wars in places like Syria and Somalia, and demography and poor prospects across Africa and the Middle East. New enablers are vital too: mobile phones, the internet, WhatsApp and Facebook. What is less understood is how business has changed this world. In “Migrant, Refugee, Smuggler, Saviour”, Peter Tinti and Tuesday Reitano, both researchers, explain how the numbers of people arriving in Europe have been made possible because of the emergence of innovative and opportunistic entrepreneurs.

People-smuggling is just another part of the vast decentralised organised-crime economy. Those in the trade are not necessarily evil or part of a grand conspiracy: they are ordinary folk drawn into organised crime by profits and the prospect of a better life. And policies, particularly in Europe, that are intended to stop migration often have the effect only of rendering it more exploitative and dangerous.

To make this argument, the authors leap around, with vivid reporting from Niger, Libya, the Balkans, Turkey and Egypt, among other places. Their primary focus is not the migrants, but the smugglers—the people who make it possible to get to countries without a visa or a passport. Crackdowns and demand stimulate supply. Both in Turkey and Libya, it was Syrian refugees—and their ability to pay tens of thousands of dollars—that drove smugglers to develop sophisticated systems. Some refugees are even given bar codes to scan when they arrive in Europe, which help release their payments from escrow. These were built on existing systems, particularly the hawala networks of informal money transfer used by merchants across the developing world.

The book’s key contention—that tighter rules inspire entrepreneurs to create new, more dangerous and criminal smuggling routes—is persuasive.

Many thanks to both outlets for taking the time to read and review the book.